There was something of an underlying nautical theme at M. Ward’s show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Wednesday night. As the story goes, in designing the building, Frank Gehry found aesthetic inspiration in his love of boats. So when M. Ward got things cooking during second song “Poison Cup,” his trademark bow legged shuffle made it look like he was losing his balance and bouncing around the galley of a ship battling rough waters.

But this was the storm after the calm. The set began with distinguished gentleman Ward’s “Lullaby + Exile,” a song that goes for the heart’s jugular with the gentlest of ease.

M. Ward is a musician’s musician, one who moves to make every last drop of a solo or a lyric coherent and meaningful. Set him down in the Disney Hall, and suddenly it felt like you were sitting in Studio A of Capitol Records with control room headphones on.

As he sang “Well a trance is a spell, with a thrill wrapped up inside it, and try as you might to fight it, love will get you in the end,” there was infinite musicality packed in to his utterance of “spell.” And that was just one word of one song. The night unfolded beautifully from there.

“Slow Driving Man,” another slow song about slow things, was slowed down even further on this night. It was subdued af, yet totally entrancing in its deliberate pace. In “Time Won’t Wait,” the headliner flirted with the front edge of the stage during a solo that took the shape of a signature Matt Ward solo where angular sections are cobbled together with a touch of magic to create a whole that is fluid and groovy.

Similarly, in the sneakily sordid “I Get Ideas” or solo acoustic jam “Duet for Guitars #3,” Ward effortlessly snuck in harmonics as easy as if they were blinks. In “Duet,” Ward’s spidery right hand opened and closed like a fan, as he alternated between pluck and strum, bounding about the stage.

A two-song run on the piano included the melancholy “Vincent O’Brien,” and wrenching take on Daniel Johnston’s “Story of an Artist.” In introducing the cover, M. Ward dipped his toes in political waters with the edict “Now is the time to defend the artists.”

With an attentive audience and the acoustics of the room so dialed in, minutiae continued to rule the night.

Ward strapped on a harmonica for “Fuel for Fire,” but added only a requisite pinch in favor of unnecessarily gratuitous servings. In “One Hundred Million Years,” he stood with sly posture, his body shielding a guitar that was turned away from the front of the room.

“Rave On” started solo, and ended with digital looping that welcomed the band back to the stage finish off the song. Towards the end of “Chinese Translation,” M. Ward brought the band to a halt, leaving only he and the warm tones his Gibson electric to make any noise.

After a brief respite, the band faded back in to the proceedings with such evenness and precision, it sounded like someone reached to turn the room’s volume dial up.

Although the Hall was shamefully(!) undersold, those who did venture to DTLA caught one of the stronger local double bills in recent memory.

Rhiannon Giddens opened the evening with a hell of a set of music that drew from a variety of genres and instrumentation, and one that never turned a blind eye to difficult chapters of American history. Instead, her music took them head on, sharing with the audience stories of from where certain songs came, and injecting them with vibrant new life.

“At The Purchaser’s Option,” lead track off of Giddens’ 2017 LP Freedom Highway was a prime example. After a slow creep percussive intro, her voice soared through verses that told the haunting tale of an African-American slave, a mother forced from custody of her own child. For the tune, Giddens aimed for period authenticity, plucking a banjo that is a replica of one made in 1858.

The barefoot Giddens had a divine and commanding presence that matched her musicianship. On “Fiddle Tunes,” she provided a glimpse of a rare musical high wire act: playing the violin and singing lead vocals at the same time.

Giddens’ propensity to change things up from one song to the next was shared by her band. The group – the same crew that recorded Freedom Highway – swapped out their instruments on nearly every song. Album producer Dirk Powell shape-shifted from keys, to guitar, to impressive lead vocals, to the squeezebox – or something just like it.

Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” proved to be the centerpiece of the set. The timeless kiss off tune provided Rhiannon Giddens an opportunity to showcase her far ranging vocals, and for drummer Jamie Dick to relentlessly work his cymbals to amass a whooshing wall of sound.

M. Ward Setlist

Lullaby + Exile
Poison Cup
The Sandman, The Brakeman and Me
Slow Driving Man
For Beginners
Time Won’t Wait
I Get Ideas
Vincent O’Brien
Story of an Artist
Duet for Guitars #3
Fuel for Fire
One Hundred Million Years
Rave On
Chinese Translation
Never Had Nobody Like You
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Moon River (with Victoria Williams)

Rhiannon Giddens Setlist

Spanish Mary
Fiddle Tunes
The Love We Almost Had
At The Purchaser’s Option
(unknown)
We Could Fly
Jack O’ Diamonds
Creole Tunes
Children Go Where I Send Thee
She’s Got You
Freedom Highway
That Lonesome Road/Up Above My Head